United to upgauge Mexico flights from June

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United Airlines will upgauge some of its flights between Houston and Mexico to larger regional jets from June, as the carrier optimises its fleet of large regional networks around its network.

Flights between Houston Intercontinental and Queretaro, Tampico and Villahermosa will shift to a 66-seat Bombardier CRJ700 from 50-seat regional jets, says Brian Znotins, vice-president of network at the Chicago-based carrier, on a flight to Chicago O'Hare on 20 May.

He says that in some of these markets United will move from multiple services on 50-seat jets to once daily on the larger aircraft.

The airline serves Queretaro up to three times per day, and Tampico and Villahermosa once daily, Innovata schedules show.

Znotins told Flightglobal in February that United was planning to upgauge certain routes between Houston and Mexico to the larger regional aircraft as part of the optimisation of its regional fleet. That optimisation includes moving some of United's 153 large regional jets to legacy Continental Airlines hubs - Cleveland, Houston and Newark - from legacy United hubs.

"[You] interweave the right aircraft at those hubs so that you optimise the number seats at a specific time," he said at the time.

Regional fleet optimisation will speed up next year. At least 70 new 76-seat Embraer 175s will begin entering service from the second quarter of 2014, under a 30 aircraft order by United and a capacity purchase agreement for 40 with SkyWest Inc.

United has options for an additional 40 E-175s.

The airline must reduce the number of aircraft in its regional aircraft to about 450 by 2016 from 558 at the end of March, under a joint pilots agreement that was ratified in December. It is expected to accomplish this by replacing 50-seaters with the E-175s.

Ron Baur, vice-president of fleet at United, declines to comment on the rate that 50-seat jets will be removed from the carrier's regional fleet though he says that they have too many of the type.

United would have to remove roughly two 50-seat jets for every one E-175 that is delivered, based Flightglobal calculations.